Friday, April 12, 2013


I was thinking about structural differences between a marriage between two parties and an arrangement with more than two parties. Here are two structural differences.

1. Once you have three persons, you have politics, and not just a relationship. You can have alliances.

2. If you are married to one person, a conflict solely about the apportionment of goods between you and the other person can be resolved by your sacrificing your own good. But if there are three or more persons in the marriage, your self-sacrifice won't solve all such problems, because some goods-apportionment conflicts between the people in the marriage will concern goods to parties other than yourself, rather than between your goods and that of another.


Dagmara Lizlovs said...

In Tibet they have polyandry:

Other articles on polyandry:


Heath White said...

In fairness to the polygamists:

- polygamy is generally recognized to be a condition where a single individual is engaged in multiple marital relationships, each of which only includes two people. The idea of polyamory, where say three people are all "married" to each other, is different.

- your second point comes into play as soon as you have kids.

Keith Pullman said...

There is more than one way of setting up a polygamous marriage, which, by the way, can consist of three or more people of the same gender or any combination of genders:

1) Dyadic network
This is where someone can be married to more than one spouse, but those spouses aren't necessarily married to each other. This is the most common people think of (traditional polyandry in the East, traditional polygyny or "plural marriage" in Muslim, Mormon, and Old Testament forms)

This means every spouse is married to every other spouse

Legally, since marriage is mostly a financial/contract structure, both of these forms of unions have long been established in contract law. A common example is a corporation, or a rock or pop music band, where members share ownership and someone may leave or someone else may join.

Another aspect of marriage in many places is default paternity. This has resulted in anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of children being assigned legal fathers who aren't biologically theirs, often without the father's awareness. We have DNA tests to sort that out now, although I understand there are some religious groups who do not allow their members to get DNA testing, but as I understand it, those groups are also officially monogamous, so wouldn't be an issue for them anyway.

There really is no good reason to deny this freedom to marry as part of full marriage equality. All of the paperwork issues can be resolved, and if paperwork and other inconveniences were a reason to deny rights, we would have never gotten the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I don't think it matters for my points whether the polygamy is a dyadic network or all-with-all or some other topology (imagine someone in an all-with-all relationship with three others who enters into a dyadic one with one more).

In my point 2, I talked of "persons in the marriage". Here, by "the marriage" I meant something like: "A maximal plurality of persons connected by marital relationships." So if A is married to B and A is married to C, but B and C are not married, and there are no other marital relationships, "the marriage" will be A, B and C.

But I certainly do disagree that "marriage is mostly a financial/contract structure". Marriage is a natural kind of morally normative institution characterized by a constellation of moral permissions and duties including especially:
- Imperfect duty of care to the other.
- Imperfect duty of reproduction and education of offspring.
- Permission of sexual relations for the couple.

A couple on a desert island can marry.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

I'll support anyone's polygamy if you'll allow for us chicks to have polyandry. The more the merrier. :-)

"A couple on a desert island can marry." - Blue Lagoon anyone.

PS It's been a long day in the office.